EDITORIAL 122 - 2022
Dwelling in the ‘Common House’
Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB
President of AIM
The current number of the Bulletin of AIM is a continuation of the previous issue. It puts forward a concrete outline for running a common House according to the principles of Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti.
We are glad to begin this issue with a lectio divina from Mother Nirmala Narikunnel, Abbess of Shanti Nilayam in India on Psalm 8, ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God’. There is a reflection on places for the new era which began in the middle of the 20th century and which is coming more and more to be called the Anthropocene Age; a look at the proposition of an alternative economy on which monasteries can be based; a proposal for the role of cellarer in a partnership with the abbot to exercise in the monastery and its surroundings the responsibility of healthy progress, taking account of the present world-scene as envisaged in the Rule.
The issue is completed by other contributions and rubrics. We report on the proposals of the Abbot Primate, Gregory Polan, at the opening of our Council in October 2021, those of the Abbot General of the Cistercians (OCist) and those of Mother Franziska Lukas, Abbess of Dinklage, on the experience of creating a European Benedictine Congregation after the Roman document Cor Orans.
The Prior of Asmara in Eritraea presents for us some aspects of the Ethiopian liturgy and we give a certain amount of monastic news.
Let us go forward resolutely to contribute to the emergence of a new world.
Ecology and Monastic Life
Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB
Literally ecology, according to the Greek origin of the word (oikos-logos) is discourse on life within the house, the space and time in which human beings live. This discourse should result in action: literally those actions which fall under the term ‘economy’ (oikos-nomos). According to the Greek origin of the word, economy is the totality of the ‘laws’ given for living together in this space and time. It is certainly unfortunate that today the term has been reduced to its usage in the world of finance, for it includes elements of personal, social and even spiritual life. There is an economic way of living and, in the personal sphere, a healthy ecology. This is altogether a way of monastic life.
According to the Rule of St Benedict the economic priority for monks is listening to God and to those who share the same situation for an open exchange of words concerning the basic principles. That is why monks give as far as possible a special place to silence, so that the words exchanged may have their true weight. It may be said that the essential listening both in oneself and from others and this mysterious Voice which goes before us and which we call God, is the basis of all ecological economy. A hotch-potch of words is certainly at the origin of the first economic crisis of human life. A word needs to be well received and given full value by everyone. It demands a great openness in order to be perceived in all its richness.
It follows that every monastery is organized on the basis of human ecology, both for personal and for community life. For every moment of the day monks are attentive to the supreme good of the Word descended from on high. They meet together seven times a day for prayer. They put themselves in the presence of the active source to which they wish to be connected in the first place, and they respond by abundant singing, as much to express praise for the gift of creation and life as to express the cry of distress of a humanity often challenged on the journey in this world.
They arrange their spaces in order to ensure that each detail has its full value. The Rule of St Benedict requires the cellarer of the monastery to ensure that every thing in the monastery is treated with the same care as the sacred vessels of the altar.
Spaces for greenery, pots, forests and agricultural land, everything in the monastery becomes a place of contemplation. Many monasteries today take care to preserve spaces with elementary rules to which the ecological movement draws our attention.
The relationship to time is also bound up in a healthy economy, even if today the monastic institution is under pressure from the same imperatives as society around it. Nevertheless the balance between prayer, work and free fraternal life remains a fundamental rule which must be preserved at all costs for a good social economy. To achieve this monasteries depend on the extraordinary reserve of solidarity constituted by numerous communities spread over five continents. It could be said of monastic life that it develops the ecological ideal of fraternal universality.
For monks food is an equally important economic and ecological element. For monks eating always implies a gift received and shared. Moderate eating without excess or waste is a rule on which St Benedict insists. Dishes should be sufficient, balanced and healthy to promote happy growth and a good development of other activities. If there is any symbol of a balanced life it is certainly that of consumption and especially that of feeding. Monastic communities truly tend to reflect carefully on this subject even when they are obliged to have recourse to outside services.
The comfort of ordinary life is limited to what is necessary. To each is given what is necessary for that individual. Everything is held in common for the sake of a solid economy. This makes it possible for a community to keep its expenses down and invest resources more generously in developed projects which an isolated individual or family could not envisage.
In welcoming guests for a stay in silence and recollection monastic centres put themselves at the heart of our societies as oases where it is possible to breathe more freely, to share more freely, to avoid the illusions of possession – all in order to be more effectively authentic in relationship with others.
It is astonishing to note that in the Rule of St Benedict the most ecological chapter is that which concerns the economy of the monastery:
The cellarer of the monastery should be chosen from among the community. To qualify for this choice a candidate should be wise and mature in behaviour, sober and not an excessive eater, not proud nor apt to give offence nor inclined to cause trouble. He should be aware of the presence of God always and everywhere and be like a father for all the community. He should take care of everything and should not upset the brothers. If a brother makes an unreason-able request the cellarer should, in refusing what is asked, be careful not to give the impression of personal rejection.
He should take special care of the sick, of children, of guests and of the poor.
He should consider all the possessions and goods of the monastery as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar. He should not neglect anything. He should not be prone to avarice not to excessive expenses; he should not waste the goods of the monastery but should do everything with moderation and a strong sense of the common good.
Of course the life of the monastery does not depend exclusively on the cellarer, but his example, as that of everyone in the monastery, should encourage the community to take the right decisions for an ecological witness at work in everything.